Born February 7, 1945 in a small Ohio farming and mining community, Robert Benjamin Wiley lost his father at a young age, and thus learned early on the value and power of the broader community pulling together in support of one another. Wiley arrived in Erie in the mid-1960s, graduating from (then) Gannon College on a basketball scholarship with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration; he later earned his Master’s degree in urban systems at Gannon. At the age of just 24, in 1969 Mr. Wiley assumed the position of executive director of the Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC). His leadership helped transform GECAC into a large nonprofit agency whose reach extended across the city and through generations of Erie residents. Under his leadership, GECAC’s staff grew to more than 400, serving more than 50,000 people ranging from preschoolers to seniors. He also served as the chief executive of the Greater Erie Economic Development Corporation (GEEDC).
Mr. Wiley worked closely with his friend Governor Tom Ridge to advance charter school education, soon followed by a charter to establish the GECAC Community Charter School—an institution that now bears Wiley’s name—as does a street in downtown Erie. Wiley’s many honors include induction into the Gannon University Basketball Hall of Fame, the National Lewis Hine Award, Gannon’s Distinguished Pennsylvanian Award, and the National John D. Whisman Vision Award from the Development District Association of Appalachia. “To see people who don’t know and understand what they are capable of accomplishing,” said Wiley, “and to embrace them and lift their self-esteem, to see them grow in confidence, that gives me the most joy and satisfaction. That’s the difference between a bad life and a good life.”